ArticlePDF Available


Why are some students more engaged in and adjusted to school than others? Why are some students more competent and why do they perform better than others? Self-determination theory is a theory of human motivation to explain students’ classroom behavior, learning process, and relationship with the environment. The goal of this paper is to review the concept of autonomy support in the classroom within the self-determination framework. Autonomy is defined as a form of voluntary action, stemming from a person’s interest and with no external pressure. Social environments that support autonomy provide meaningful rationale, acknowledge negative feelings, use noncontrolling language, offer meaningful choices, and nurture internal motivational resources. In classrooms where teachers support autonomy, students improve their academic performance, are more creative and better adjusted, engage more in school, and feel less stress. We provide theoretical and methodological suggestions for future research.
Alexander Grob
Managing Editor
Kristen Lavallee
Associate Editors
R. Banse · U. Ehlert
G. Galfano · K. Salmela-Aro
N. Anderson
Ocial Organ of the European Federation
of Psychologists’ Associations (EFPA)
Volume 20 | Number 4 | 2015
ISSN-L 1016-9040 · ISSN-Print 1016-9040 · ISSN-Online 1878-531X
Original Articles
and Reviews
EFPA News and Views
Volume Information
Preventive Interventions for Children and Adolescents:
A Review of Meta-Analytic Evidence
Leslie Morrison Gutman and Ingrid Schoon 231
Physical and Psychological Benefits of Written Emotional Expression:
Review of Meta-Analyses and Recommendations
´va Ka´llay 242
Three Lines of Personality Development: A Conceptual Itinerary
Dan P. McAdams 252
Like a Horse and Carriage? The Dynamic Interplay of Attachment
and Sexuality During Relationship Development
Gurit E. Birnbaum 265
Autonomy Support in the Classroom: A Review From Self-Determination
Juan L. Nu´n˜ez and Jaime Leo´n 275
News and Announcements: From the EFPA Network of National News
Correspondents 284
Meeting Calendar 286
Reviewers 2015 287
European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4) Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing
Your article has appeared in a journal published by Hogrefe Publishing.
This e-offprint is provided exclusively for the personal use of the authors. It may not be
posted on a personal or institutional website or to an institutional or disciplinary repository.
If you wish to post the article to your personal or institutional website or to archive it
in an institutional or disciplinary repository, please use either a pre-print or a post-print of
your manuscript in accordance with the publication release for your article and our
‘‘Online Rights for Journal Articles’’ (
Original Articles and Reviews
Autonomy Support in the
A Review From Self-Determination Theory
Juan L. Núñez and Jaime León
Department of Psychology and Sociology, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain
Abstract. Why are some students more engaged in and adjusted to school than
others? Why are some students more competent and why do they perform better
than others? Self-determination theory is a theory of human motivation to explain
students’ classroom behavior, learning process, and relationship with the environ-
ment. The goal of this paper is to review the concept of autonomy support in the
classroom within the self-determination framework. Autonomy is defined as a form
of voluntary action, stemming from a person’s interest and with no external pressure.
Social environments that support autonomy provide meaningful rationale, acknowl-
edge negative feelings, use noncontrolling language, offer meaningful choices, and
nurture internal motivational resources. In classrooms where teachers support
autonomy, students improve their academic performance, are more creative and
better adjusted, engage more in school, and feel less stress. We provide theoretical
and methodological suggestions for future research.
Keywords: academic context, autonomy support, motivation, self-determination
Students usually display different attitudes in the classroom.
Sometimes, they may be active and cooperative, and
sometimes they may adopt passive and reluctant attitudes.
Within the framework of the self-determination theory
(SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985, 2000), Reeve (2006, 2009) has
explained how students’ behavior and feelings depend on
social factors such as the teachers’ attitudes. The class envi-
ronment generated by the teacher is an essential element to
explain students’ motivation and emotions. Therefore, in
order to understandstudents’ behavior, it is necessary to study
the teacher’s role. SDT is a macro-theory of personality,
human motivation, and optimal functioning that has been
established as a theoretical framework to explain these issues.
In this review, we focus on autonomy support within the
SDT framework. We will introduce this concept by describ-
ing intrinsic motivation and the Cognitive Evaluation
Theory; we will then explain the concept of autonomy
and the different types of extrinsic motivation posited by
the Organismic Integration Theory. Finally, we will address
the Basic Psychological Needs Theory to explain the moti-
vational determinants of an autonomous behavior. These
three latter theories are considered mini-theories within
the broader SDT framework. Subsequently, we will focus
on autonomy support. To conclude, we will highlight some
aspects that might be of interest for future studies.
Intrinsic Motivation
The intensity with which adolescents study, as well as why
they study, may be relevant because people not only vary in
the amount of an activity they perform, but also in the types
of motivation to perform it (Ryan & Deci, 2000a). In the
educational context, intrinsic, and extrinsic motivation are
two key aspects (e.g., Habgood & Ainsworth, 2011; Lepper,
Corpus, & Iyengar, 2005). Intrinsic motivation is character-
ized by satisfaction, interest, and pleasure when performing
an activity, whereas extrinsic motivation is defined by low
levels of satisfaction and consists of engaging in behaviors
due to external reinforcement such as obtaining a reward or
internal pressures such as avoiding feeling guilty. Deci
(1971) proposed that the cognitive appraisal of rewards
would affect intrinsic motivation, finding that intrinsic
motivation decreased when money was used as an external
reward, but increased when verbal reinforcement and posi-
tive feedback were used. These results can be explained by
the Cognitive Evaluation Theory. This mini-theory proposes
two processes to explain changes in intrinsic motivation
(Frederick & Ryan, 1995; Ryan, 1982). The first process
is through locus of causality. The construct locus of causal-
ity refers to the extent to which individuals perceive their
own actions as a result of either external or internal causes.
Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4):275–283
DOI: 10.1027/1016-9040/a000234
Author’s personal copy (e-offprint)
External rewards can shift the perceived locus of causality
from internal to external, thereby diminishing intrinsic moti-
vation. However, providing meaningful choices would have
the opposite effect, increasing intrinsic motivation. The sec-
ond process consists of enhancing competence: if students
feel more competent, their intrinsic motivation will increase.
Autonomous Motivation
Autonomy, or the ability to think, feel, and make decisions
by oneself is a developmentally normative process and
particularly important to adolescents within the school
context (McElhaney, Allen, Stephenson, & Hare, 2009).
Autonomous motivation means that students engage volun-
tarily in the learning process, that is, the individual is origin
of his or her actions. Within SDT, acting autonomously
implies being self-governing and the initiator of one’s
own activities (Gillet, Vallerand, & Lafrenière, 2011).
Actions are engaged in freely based on one’s values and
interests; these individuals perceive an internal locus of
causality of their actions (deCharms, 1968). Autonomy is
not the same as independence because a person may be vol-
untarily dependent or forced to rely or depend on others
(Ryan, La Guardia, Solky-Butzel, Chirkov, & Kim, 2005).
Weinstein, Przybylski, and Ryan (2012) distinguish three
facets of the concept of autonomy: (a) authorship or self-
congruence, referring to the individual experience of being
the actor of one’s own behavior; (b) interest-taking, which
refers to the spontaneous tendency to think openly about
internal and external developments. Interest-taking facili-
tates self-awareness and self-understanding; and (c) absence
of internal and external pressures.
In contrast, in controlled self-regulation, people tend to
feel that they have less choice. In this case, their behavior
depends on external pressures, rewards, or other external
elements. Controlled behaviors are characterized by exter-
nally perceived locus of causality. People with low auton-
omy perceive a lower degree of personal choice and
initiative, and their behavior is a response to other people’s
pressure, inner expectations, or internal or self-imposed
It is important to note that students will be intrinsically
motivated only for activities that they find interesting,
novel, or challenging, but many school activities do not
match these ideal conditions, thus, it is important to know
how to motivate students to comply with school activi-
ties without external pressures (Ryan & Deci, 2000b).
For instance, when it comes to motivating students extrinsi-
cally, the pursued reward may be found in the environment
or it may be internal (Jang, Kim, & Reeve, 2012), thus,
students may do homework for different reasons: to avoid
parental punishment, to avoid feeling guilty, or to get good
grades in order to be admitted in a certain university. All of
these motives are extrinsic, varying from external to auton-
omous. When students do homework to avoid being pun-
ished, they feel controlled by external forces, but when
they do it to gain access to a certain university, the regula-
tion is more autonomous, as the goal of the behavior is
intrinsic to the self, instead of coming from the outer envi-
ronment. In this example, we have seen two assumptions of
the Organismic Integration Theory, a mini-theory of the
SDT framework. According to the first assumption, people
tend to internalize values and practices carried out under
external regulation: the student began doing homework
pressured by external forces but ended doing it due to
intrinsic goals. The second assumption described in the
example is that these types of motivations vary in their inte-
gration into the self, going from external to autonomous
(Ryan, Williams, Patrick, & Deci, 2009).
There are two types of autonomous motivation: intrinsic
motivation, which implies engagement in an activity for the
pleasure and satisfaction inherent to the activity and which
should considered a sign of self-determination (Deci &
Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2000b), and identified regula-
tion, which is an autonomous form of extrinsic motivation,
as the individual values the goal of the behavior and consid-
ers it important. In contrast, controlled motivation implies
that students engage in the learning process due to a sense
of pressure and coercion. Controlled motivation includes
two types of extrinsic motivation: external regulation,
which refers to engagement in an activity to gain rewards
or to avoid punishment; and introjected regulation, in which
behavior is regulated by requirements and demands and
individuals begin to internalize the reasons for their actions
and are energized by factors such as an avoidance of shame
or guilt, contingent self-esteem, and ego involvement (Deci
& Ryan, 2008). The motivational literature has established
that autonomous and controlled motivation lead to very
different outcomes, whereby autonomously motivated stu-
dents display greater psychological well-being (Núñez,
Fernández, León, & Grijalvo, 2015), better performance
(Kusurkar, Ten Cate, Vos, Westers, & Croiset, 2013), and
greater engagement (Hafen et al., 2012).
Deci and Ryan (2000) consider that autonomously moti-
vated students believe in what they do, feel self-congruent,
perceive their behavior as integrated, and are open to self-
exploration. Low autonomy reflects a general feeling that
one’s behavior is controlled by external influence or contin-
gencies, including social pressure (deCharms, 1968; Ryan
& Connell, 1989). Both autonomous and controlled motiva-
tion energize and direct behavior, in contrast to amotivation,
which occurs when no contingencies are perceived between
the behaviors and their outcomes. In this case, the individ-
ual is neither intrinsically nor extrinsically motivated but
only feels incompetence and loss of control (Deci & Ryan,
1985; Vallerand & Ratelle, 2002).
Basic Psychological Needs Theory
The basic psychological needs theory (BPNT) is a mini-
theory stating that the fulfillment of the three basic
psychological needs – autonomy, competence, and related-
ness – will affect one’s tendencies toward the integration of
a priori external regulations, leading to a sense of well-
being. Therefore, environments that support these needs
(instead of thwarting them) will have a positive effect on
276 J. L. Núñez & J. León: Autonomy Support in the Classroom
Author’s personal copy (e-offprint)
European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4):275–283 Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing
well-being. These needs are innate, universal, and essential
for growth, well-being, and personal and social develop-
ment (Ryan & Deci, 2000b), regardless of gender, social
class, or cultural context (Vansteenkiste, Niemiec, &
Soenens, 2010). The need for autonomy refers to the expe-
rience of will and psychological freedom and is determined
by the level of external pressure when performing an action
(deCharms, 1968; Deci & Ryan, 1985). Individuals who are
autonomous feel that they choose their behavior, and per-
ceive this behavior as something born within, which agrees
with their values and interests. The need for competence
implies that individuals want to interact effectively with
their environment in order to feel capable of producing
desired outcomes and preventing undesired ones (Connell
& Wellborn, 1991). Finally, the need for relatedness refers
to the desire to feel connected with, and mutually support-
ive of, significant others. BPNT posits that need satisfaction
predicts individual differences in health and wellness across
time. This has been studied in longitudinal analyses, in
which the accumulation of these experiences over time
was shown to predict wellness outcomes (León & Núñez,
2013; Quested & Duda, 2009).
The three basic psychological needs provide the basis
for predicting whether or not the social environment will
promote an autonomous behavior (Deci & Vansteenkiste,
2004). This is an important aspect because the adequacy
of a social environment (e.g., a classroom) to meet autono-
mous needs determines, for example, the adolescents’ level
of engagement. This has been empirically supported in a
longitudinal school-based study where adolescents’ percep-
tion of their level of autonomy in the classroom at the
beginning of the school year predicted their engagement
at the end of the year (Hafen et al., 2012). Sheldon and
Filak (2008) found support for a model in which teacher
autonomy support directly affects student need satisfaction.
Of these three needs, autonomy plays the most important
role in the SDT (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Gagne & Deci,
2005) and has received more attention from SDT research-
ers, but it should be borne in mind that all three needs are
necessary for optimal functioning (Ryan, 1995). When peo-
ple engage in activities that make them feel autonomous or
self-driven, they will feel enhanced well-being, that is, opti-
mal psychological functioning and positive experiences
(Vansteenkiste, Ryan, & Deci, 2008).
Motivational Determinants
Social factors do not influence motivation directly, but
instead mediated by autonomy, competence, and related-
ness. If social factors satisfy basic psychological needs,
motivation will be more integrated within the self (Deci,
Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991). This aspect is espe-
cially important in academic contexts. Teachers will
increase students’ autonomous motivation if they promote
a social classroom context in which students feel that the
learning process depends on them, their behavior is related
to their interests, they feel competent, and that they belong
to and are connected with the group. Consequently, these
students will function optimally at the cognitive, behavioral,
and emotional levels.
Learning experiences that fulfill the needs of autonomy
and competence enhance autonomous motivation, whereas
events that reduce these feelings lessen it. Both autonomy
and competence are experiences that are completely deter-
mined by the social environment (Ryan et al., 2009). One of
the most important and most extensively studied social fac-
tors within this framework is autonomy support (Deci &
Ryan, 1991; Stefanou, Perencevich, Dicintio, & Turner,
Autonomy Support
An essential aspect that teachers should take into account in
classroom is the importance of supporting students’ auton-
omy (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Autonomy support is the inter-
personal behavior teachers provide during instruction to
identify, nurture, and build students’ inner motivational
resources (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Reeve, Deci, & Ryan,
2004). Thus, autonomy support refers to an atmosphere
where students are not pressured to behave in a specific
way, and where they are, instead, encouraged to be them-
selves (Ryan & Deci, 2004).
Deci, Eghrari, Patrick, and Leone (1994) argue that
three interpersonal conditions are necessary for individuals
to feel that their autonomy is supported: providing mean-
ingful rationale (i.e., verbal explanations that help others
to understand why self-regulation of the activity would have
personal utility), acknowledging negative feelings (i.e.,
tension-alleviating acknowledgment that one’s request to
others clashes with their personal inclinations and that their
feelings of conflict are legitimate), and using noncontrol-
ling language (i.e., communications that minimize pressure,
absence of the terms ‘‘should,’’ ‘‘must,’ and ‘‘have to, con-
veying a sense of choice and flexibility in the phrasing).
New interpersonal conditions based on the theory have
been added to the definition of autonomy support, such
as: offering meaningful choices (i.e., providing information
about options, encouraging choice-making, and initiation of
one’s own action) and nurturing inner motivational
resources (i.e., reinforcing the other’s interest, enjoyment,
psychological need satisfaction, or sense of challenge or
curiosity while engaging in a requested activity). According
to Su and Reeve (2011), 84% of intervention studies
designed to support autonomy include at least four of these
five conditions that define autonomy support. Furthermore,
Assor, Roth, and Deci (2004) include as an essential ele-
ment of autonomy support, the behavior of providing
unconditional positive regard, and Reeve (2009) adds dis-
playing patience so as to allow time for self-paced learning
to occur.
According to Stefanou et al. (2004), the characteristic
elements of autonomy support can be classified into three
categories: (a) organizational autonomy support: students
can choose group members, evaluation procedures, due
dates, etc.; (b) procedural autonomy support: students can
choose what materials to use in their schoolwork, how to
J. L. Núñez & J. León: Autonomy Support in the Classroom 277
Author’s personal copy (e-offprint)
Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4):275–283
display their work, etc.; and (c) cognitive autonomy sup-
port: students can find multiple solutions to problems,
debate ideas freely, have to time to make decisions, etc.
These categories have different effects: organizational
autonomy support can make students feel better and more
comfortable with the way the classroom works, procedural
autonomy support can foster initial learning engagement,
while cognitive autonomy support encourages a stronger
investment in learning activities.
In the classroom, autonomy support has been seen as
opposite or mutually exclusive to the concept of structure
(Daniels & Bizar, 1998). The reason for this is that structure
was erroneously understood as control. Structure refers to
the amount and clarity of information that teachers provide
to students about their expectations and ways of effectively
achieving the desired educational outcomes (Skinner &
Belmont, 1993). It helps to provide clear and consistent
guidelines in class, just the opposite of a chaotic situation
in which teachers are confusing or contradictory, or fail
to communicate clear expectations and directions. Structure
has positive motivational consequences and is and should
be complemented with autonomy support (Jang, Reeve, &
Deci, 2010; Sierens, Vansteenkiste, Goossens, Soenens, &
Dochy, 2009). In fact, students’ engagement will be greater
if teachers support autonomy and structure the class.
It is noteworthy that, in the educational context, auton-
omy support and controlling behavior have been identified
as opposite elements along a continuum ranging from con-
trolling to very autonomy-supportive (Reeve, Jang, Carrell,
Jeon, & Barch, 2004; Soenens & Vansteenkiste, 2005). In
this line, Deci and Ryan (1985, 1991) argue that autonomy
support implies promoting choice, minimizing pressure to
perform tasks in a certain way, and encouraging initiative,
in contrast to controlling behavior, characterized by dead-
lines, external rewards, or potential punishments (Deci,
Connell, & Ryan, 1989; Deci & Ryan, 1991). However,
some authors have proposed that controlling behavior might
not be the exact opposite of autonomy-support (Silk,
Morris, Kanaya, & Steinberg, 2003). In this sense, teachers
can employ an autonomy-supportive style and, at the same
time, display controlling behavior, such as pressuring
students and being negative (Reeve & Jang, 2006; Tessier,
Sarrazin, & Ntoumanis, 2008). The opposite of autonomy
support is controllingness. Controllingness refers to teach-
ers’ interpersonal behavior during instruction to gain their
students’ compliance with their prescribed way of thinking,
feeling, or behaving. Controlling teachers motivate students
through extrinsic incentives and pressuring language,
so that students’ classroom participation is not regulated
by their inner motivational resources. Students in class-
rooms with autonomy-supportive teachers, as compared
with those who have controlling teachers, will feel better
understood, and teachers will accept students’ decisions
instead of directing their way of thinking. Autonomy-
supportive teachers will offer choices of different activities,
they use noncontrolling and informative feedback, nurture
inner motivational resources, and acknowledge and accept
expressions of negative affect (Deci et al., 1989; Reeve,
2009; Su & Reeve, 2011). Some studies have shown that
the teachers’ attitudes – autonomous versus controlling –
are stable throughout the academic year (Deci, Schwartz,
Scheinman, & Ryan, 1981), and multiple benefits have
been observed, for example: better academic performance
in classrooms (Flink, Boggiano, & Barrett, 1990), greater
perceived competence (Álvarez, Estevan, Falcó, & Castillo,
2013; Williams, Wiener, Markakis, Reeve, & Deci, 1994),
greater creativity (Koestner, Ryan, Bernieri, & Holt,
1984), more school engagement (Assor, Kaplan, & Roth,
2002), higher grades and better school adjustment (Patrick,
Anderman, & Ryan, 2002; Ryan, Stiller, & Lynch, 1994;
Wentzel, 2002), and less experienced stress (Torsheim &
Wold, 2001). Recently, Bonneville-Roussy, Vallerand, and
Bouffard (2013) showed that the students’ persistence
towards their own schooling could be partly explained by
the autonomy-supportive style implemented by their teach-
ers. These results show the importance of supporting auton-
omy in the classroom to predict students’ educational
But, what are the determinants or predictors of an auton-
omy-supportive teaching style? Pelletier, Seguin-Levesque,
and Legault (2002) tested the impact of various social fac-
tors, concluding that teachers’ self-determined motivation
positively predicted autonomy-supportive teaching behav-
iors. Taylor, Ntoumanis, and Standage (2008) found that
teachers’ perception of the satisfaction of their psychologi-
cal needs predicted autonomy-supportive teaching styles,
and Taylor, Ntoumanis, and Smith (2009) showed that
teachers’ own performance appraisal, cultural norms, and
time constraints determined their autonomy-supportive
teaching. In contrast, Soenens, Sierens, Vansteenkiste,
Dochy, and Goossens (2012) found that teachers’ perceived
emotional exhaustion and depersonalization were predictors
of controlling teaching styles.
We highlight the fact that teachers’ adoption of an
autonomy-supportive style in classroom is not enough; it
is also necessary for students to perceive that the teacher
supports their autonomy (Hagger et al., 2007). Scientific lit-
erature has shown that perceived autonomy support in the
classroom is associated with an increase of students’ auton-
omous motivation. Vansteenkiste et al. (2012) noted that
students in the high autonomy support-clear expectations
cluster reported the highest degree of autonomous motiva-
tion. Also, Koka (2013) showed that students who perceived
that their teacher emphasized teaching, took students’ abil-
ities into account, and exhibited interest and concern for the
students’ welfare experienced a higher level of autonomous
motivation in physical education. Recently, De Naeghel
et al. (2014) stated that teachers’ autonomy support was
related to intrinsic reading motivation, particularly of girls.
In addition, autonomy support in the classroom is
related to greater well-being (Black & Deci, 2000), better
performance (Boggiano, Flink, Shields, Seelbach, &
Barrett, 1993; Vansteenkiste, Simons, Lens, Sheldon, &
Deci, 2004), greater engagement (Hafen et al., 2012),
higher intrinsic motivation (Reeve & Jang, 2006), and,
finally, improved time management and concentration
(Vansteenkiste, Zhou, Lens, & Soenens, 2005). Taylor and
Ntoumanis (2007) showed that the effect of perceived
278 J. L. Núñez & J. León: Autonomy Support in the Classroom
Author’s personal copy (e-offprint)
European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4):275–283 Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing
autonomy support on well-being was mediated by students
autonomy. In short, autonomy-supportive teaching is related
to educational benefits (Reeve, Ryan, Deci, & Jang, 2007).
It is also important to underscore that autonomy sup-
port is independent of students’ achievement; that is, if
students’ perceive teacher autonomy support, both high-
and low-achieving students should experience the same
educational benefits (Guay, Ratelle, Larose, Vallerand, &
Vitaro, 2013).
Future Directions
Motivation is the engine that drives our behavior, but not all
kinds of motivation are adequate for optimum classroom
behavior. SDT states that more self-determined or autono-
mous forms of motivation involve more positive conse-
quences, such as long-term task persistence. A deep
analysis of the determinants of persistence in the classroom
would have a significant social impact in areas with high
dropout rates. Future studies could show which student
environmental factors (e.g., structure or involvement) may
explain such an important dimension as students’ persis-
tence in school. Cross-cultural studies comparing the
explanatory level of autonomy-supportive style on students’
persistence in different countries will be of interest.
SDT shows that certain environmental factors are
responsible for predicting or determining students’ autono-
mous motivation. However, this influence is not direct, but
mediated by the basic psychological needs (autonomy, com-
petence, and relatedness) that must be satisfied. As seen
above, one of the most important environmental factors is
students’ autonomy support in the classroom provided by
their teachers. This teaching style is of great benefit to
the students, as opposed to the controlling teaching style.
However, one deficit of the autonomy support in the class-
room research is the lack of study of these teaching style
determinants. Very few studies have explored the autonomy
support antecedents (Roth, & Weinstock, 2013). Research
has identified several factors that influence autonomy-
supportive teaching behaviors, such as teachers’ self-
determined motivation, their personal characteristics, their
perception of the satisfaction of their basic psychological
needs, and their own performance appraisal, cultural norms,
and time constraints. However, which of these factors exerts
the greatest influence is unknown. Future research should
examine which identified environmental factors have the
greatest influence on teachers in order to develop evi-
dence-based interventions. Currently, there is an intense
debate on cross-culturally universal benefits of autonomy
support in the classroom. SDT states that the benefits of
autonomy support are universal (Chirkov, & Ryan, 2001;
Vansteenkiste et al., 2005), but several authors disagree
with this universal approach, arguing that such benefits
are only present in students from individualistic societies
(Markus & Kitayama, 2003). As indicated by Reeve et al.
(2014), future cross-cultural studies contemplating collec-
tivistic and individualistic societies could cast more light
on this debate. In this regard, Reeve et al. (2014), in a
multinational study, found a modest negative correlation
between autonomy support and teacher control, which
could indicate that teachers consider these two styles as
independent and not so much as opposites. Future research
could consider this variable and help to resolve the debate
about the universality of autonomy support (Reeve et al.,
According to the tenets of SDT, the controlling context
is associated with negative consequences, as it does not sat-
isfy students’ need for autonomy. However, Radel, Pelletier,
Sarrazin, and Baxter (2014) analyzed the paradoxical effect
of controlling contexts on intrinsic motivation. Results
showed that when an individual is exposed to a controlling
context, this generates an increase of intrinsic motivation in
the next task. The authors argue that individuals attempt to
restore their lost autonomy in the next task if this task has
no controlling elements. Autonomy restoration could be
evaluated in future studies. Another possible line of inquiry
to explain this phenomenon could be the analysis of indi-
viduals’ expectations before facing a task. Radel, Sarrazin,
Legrain, and Wild (2010) claim that students’ intrinsic
motivation depends more on individual expectations based
on the preliminary information received than on teaching
style. In any case, this effect should be examined in greater
depth in the academic context.
Su and Reeve (2011) clearly establish the elements that
define autonomy support in the classroom, and the vast
majority of autonomy support intervention programs have
integrated them. Currently, it is recommended to include
multiple and complementary elements of autonomy support
in an intervention program, but further research is needed to
determine the essential elements of optimal autonomy sup-
port. In this sense, qualitative analyses may be necessary to
include new conceptualizations of autonomy support in the
classroom and modify the existing ones. To explore the
variety of ways in which teachers provide autonomy in
the real context of class may be relevant. In many tradi-
tional classrooms, autonomy support is difficult to imple-
ment because the school resources and tasks limit the
availability of interesting experiences (Rogat, Witham, &
Chinn, 2014). Tsai, Kunter, Lüdtke, Trautwein, and Ryan
(2008) showed that providing a greater sense of control in
the cognitive activities of class increased students’ interest
in lessons of different subjects. However, there is very little
direct empirical research of the three categories of auton-
omy support proposed by Stefanou et al. (2004): organiza-
tional autonomy support, procedural autonomy support, and
cognitive autonomy support. Future studies could analyze
more deeply the effects of the three categories on the learn-
ing experience in the classroom.
Most studies have reached conclusions on the basis
of student perceptions of their teachers’ teaching style.
A multi-informant approach can prevent this weakness.
The assessment of student perceptions of teaching dimen-
sions needs to be complemented with teacher perceptions
and direct observations. It might be interesting to compare
students’ self-reports, teachers’ perceptions, and direct
Both in childhood and adolescence, the figures of tea-
cher and parents become reference points for students’
J. L. Núñez & J. León: Autonomy Support in the Classroom 279
Author’s personal copy (e-offprint)
Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4):275–283
development. SDT proposes that autonomy support by
significant others (i.e., teacher, parents, and friends) pro-
motes perceived competence, autonomous regulation, and
academic achievement (Guay et al., 2013). It would be
interesting to study in greater depth the relationship
between teacher autonomy support and the autonomy sup-
port provided by significant others. It seems likely that par-
ents and teachers may sometimes be autonomy-supportive
and other times controlling, in order for students to achieve
their educational goals. However, this explanation is more
theoretical than scientific and should be confirmed in future
research. The influence of peers on individual and social
development is obvious. However, research has focused
very little on the effect of peers on student motivation.
Studies of the influence of peers’ motivational characteris-
tics on student autonomous motivation at school could be
especially interesting. Very little is known about the influ-
ence that friends may have compared to the influence of
parents and teachers.
According to some of the recommendations proposed
by Guay, Ratelle, and Chanal (2008), we consider it neces-
sary to perform, on the one hand, a greater number of
longitudinal studies to demonstrate the causal link between
positive variables more effectively – for example, the
effects of autonomy support on autonomous motivation
and the effects on the latter on positive outcomes in the
class setting, such as persistence, achievement, and well-
being; and, on the other hand, more intervention studies
at different education levels and in children from different
backgrounds. All this will help us to better understand the
various processes underlying autonomy support in the
Álvarez, O., Estevan, I., Falcó, C., & Castillo, I. (2013). Effects
of perceived autonomy support on elite taekwondo Spanish
athletes. Revista Iberoamericana de Psicología del Ejercicio
y del Deporte, 8, 59–70. doi: 10.1400/210615
Assor, A., Kaplan, H., & Roth, G. (2002). Choice is good, but
relevance is excellent: Autonomy-enhancing and suppress-
ing teacher behaviours predicting students’ engagement in
schoolwork. The British Journal of Educational Psychology,
72, 261–278. doi: 10.1348/000709902158883
Assor, A., Roth, G., & Deci, E. L. (2004). The emotional
costs of perceived parental conditional regard: A self-
determination theory analysis. Journal of Personality, 72,
47–87. doi: 10.1111/j.0022-3506.2004.00256.x
Black, A., & Deci, E. (2000). The effects of instructors’
autonomy support and students’ autonomous motivation on
learning organic chemistry: A self-determination theory
perspective. Science Education, 84, 740–756. doi: 10.1002/
Boggiano, A. K., Flink, C., Shields, A., Seelbach, A., & Barrett,
M. (1993). Use of techniques promoting students’ self-
determination: Effects on students’ analytic problem-solving
skills. Motivation and Emotion, 17, 319–336. doi: 10.1007/
Bonneville-Roussy, A., Vallerand, R. J., & Bouffard, T. (2013).
Autonomy support and passion in educational persistence.
Learning and Individual Differences, 24, 22–31.
doi: 10.1016/j.lindif.2012.12.015
Chirkov, V. I., & Ryan, R. M. (2001). Parent and teacher
autonomy support in Russian and US adolescents: Common
effects on well-being and academic motivation. Journal of
Cross-Cultural Psychology, 32, 618–635. doi: 10.1177/
Connell, J. P., & Wellborn, J. G. (1991). Competence, autonomy,
and relatedness: A motivational analysis of self-system
processes. In M. R. Gunnar & L. A. Sroufe (Eds.), Self
processes and development (pp. 43–77). Hillsdale, NJ:
Daniels, H., & Bizar, M. (1998). Methods that matter: Six
structures for best practice classrooms. Portland, ME:
deCharms, R. (1968). Personal causation. New York, NY:
Academic Press.
Deci, E. L. (1971). Effects of externally mediated rewards on
intrinsic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 18, 105–115. doi: 10.1037/h0030644
Deci, E. L., Connell, J. P., & Ryan, R. M. (1989). Self-
determination in a work organization. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 74, 580–590. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.74.4.580
Deci, E. L., Eghrari, H., Patrick, B. C., & Leone, D. (1994).
Facilitating internalization: The self-determination the-
ory perspective. Journal of Personality, 62, 119–142.
doi: 10.1111/1467-6494.ep9406221281
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-
determination in human behaviour. New York, NY: Plenum
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1991). A motivational approach to
self: Integration in personality. In R. Dienstbier (Ed.),
Perspectives on motivation. Lincoln, NE: University of
Nebraska Press.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The ‘‘what’’ and ‘‘why’’ of
goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of
behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268. doi: 10.1207/
S15327965 PLI1104_01
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory:
A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and
health. Canadian Psychology, 49, 182–185. doi: 10.1037/
Deci, E. L., Schwartz, A., Scheinman, L., & Ryan, R. M.
(1981). An instrument to assess adult’s orientations toward
control versus autonomy in children: Reflections on intrinsic
motivation and perceived competence. Journal of Educa-
tional Psychology, 73, 642–650. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.
Deci, E. L., Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., & Ryan, R. M.
(1991). Motivation and education: The self-determination
perspective. Educational Psychologist, 26, 325–346.
doi: 10.1207/s15326985ep2603&4_6
Deci, E. L., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2004). Self-determination
theory and basic need satisfaction: Understanding human
development in positive psychology. Ricerche di Psicholo-
gia, 27, 17–34.
De Naeghel, J., Valcke, M., De Meyer, I., Warlop, N.,
van Braak, J., & Van Keer, H. (2014). The role of teacher
behavior in adolescents’ intrinsic reading motivation. Reading
and Writing, 27, 1547–1565. doi: 10.1007/s11145-014-9506-3
Flink, C., Boggiano, A. K., & Barrett, M. (1990). Control-
ling teaching strategies: Undermining children’s self-
determination and performance. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 26, 5–23. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.
Frederick, C. M., & Ryan, R. M. (1995). Self-determination in
sport: A review using cognitive evaluation theory. Interna-
tional Journal of Sport Psychology, 26, 5–23.
Gagne, M., & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self-determination theory and
work motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26,
331–362. doi: 10.1002/job.322
280 J. L. Núñez & J. León: Autonomy Support in the Classroom
Author’s personal copy (e-offprint)
European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4):275–283 Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing
Gillet, N., Vallerand, R. J., & Lafrenière, M.-A. K. (2011).
Intrinsic and extrinsic school motivation as a function of
age: The mediating role of autonomy support. Social
Psychology of Education, 15, 77–95. doi: 10.1007/s11218-
Guay, F., Ratelle, C. F., & Chanal, J. (2008). Optimal learning
in optimal contexts: The role of self-determination in
education. Canadian Psychology, 49, 233–240. doi:
Guay, F.,Ratelle, C., Larose,S., Vallerand, R. J., & Vitaro, F. (2013).
The number of autonomy-supportive relationships: Are more
relationships better for motivation, perceived competence, and
achievement? Contemporary Educational Psychology, 38,
375–382. doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2013.07.005
Habgood, M. P. J., & Ainsworth, S. E. (2011). Motivating
children to learn effectively: Exploring the value of intrinsic
integration in educational games. Journal of the Learning
Sciences, 20, 169–206. doi: 10.1080/10508406.2010.508029
Hafen, C. A., Allen, J. P., Mikami, A. Y., Gregory, A.,
Hamre, B. K., & Pianta, R. C. (2012). The pivotal role of
adolescent autonomy in secondary school classrooms.
Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41, 245–255.
doi: 10.1007/s10964-011-9739-2
Hagger, M. S., Chatzisarantis, N. L., Hein, V., Pihu, M., Soós, I., &
Karsai, I. (2007). The Perceived Autonomy Support Scale for
Exercise Settings (PASSES): Development, validity, and cross-
cultural invariance in young people. Psychology of Sport and
Exercise, 8, 632–653. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2006.09.001
Jang, H., Kim, E. J., & Reeve, J. (2012). Longitudinal test of
self-determination theory’s motivation mediation model in a
naturally occurring classroom context. Journal of Educa-
tional Psychology, 104, 1175–1188. doi: 10.1037/a0028089
Jang, H., Reeve, J., & Deci, E. L. (2010). Engaging students in
learning activities: It is not autonomy support or structure
but autonomy support and structure. Journal of Educational
Psychology, 102, 588–600. doi: 10.1037/a0019682
Koestner, R., Ryan, R. M., Bernieri, F., & Holt, K. (1984).
Setting limits on children’s behavior: The differential effects
of controlling versus informational styles on children’s
intrinsic motivation and creativity. Journal of Personality,
54, 233–248. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1984.tb00879.x
Koka, A. (2013). The relationships between perceived teaching
behaviors and motivation in physical education: A one-year
longitudinal study. Scandinavian Journal of Educational
Research, 57, 33–53. doi: 10.1080/00313831.2011.621213
Kusurkar, R. A., Ten Cate, T. J., Vos, C. M. P., Westers, P., &
Croiset, G. (2013). How motivation affects academic
performance: A structural equation modelling analysis.
Advances in Health Sciences Education: Theory and
Practice, 18, 57–69. doi: 10.1007/s10459-012-9354-3
León, J., & Núñez, J. L. (2013). Causal ordering of basic
psychological needs and well-being. Social Indicators
Research, 114, 243–253. doi: 10.1007/s11205-012-0143-4
Lepper, M. R., Corpus, J. H., & Iyengar, S. S. (2005). Intrinsic
and extrinsic motivational orientations in the classroom: Age
differences and academic correlates. Journal of Educational
Psychology, 97, 184–196. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.97.2.184
Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (2003). Models of agency:
Sociocultural diversity in the construction of action. In
V. Murphy-Berman & J. J. Berman (Eds.), Nebraska
symposium on motivation: Cross-cultural differences in
perspectives on the self (Vol. 49, pp. 1–57). Lincoln, NE:
University of Nebraska Press.
McElhaney, K., Allen, J., Stephenson, J., & Hare, A. (2009).
Attachment and autonomy during adolescence. In Handbook
of adolescent psychology, Vol 1: Individual bases of
adolescent development (3rd ed., pp. 358–403). Hoboken,
NJ: Wiley.
Núñez, J. L., Fernández, C., León, J., & Grijalvo, F. (2015). The
relationship between teacher’s autonomy support and stu-
dents’ autonomy and vitality. Teachers and Teaching:
Theory and Practice, 21, 191–202. doi: 10.1080/13540602.
Patrick, H., Anderman, L. H., & Ryan, A. (2002). Social
motivation and the classroom social environment. In
C. Midgley (Ed.), Goals, goal structures, and patterns of
adaptive learning (pp. 85–108). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Pelletier, L., Seguin-Levesque, C., & Legault, L. (2002).
Pressure from above and pressure from below as determi-
nants of teachers’ motivation and teaching behaviours.
Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 186–196.
doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.94.1.186
Quested, E., & Duda, J. L. (2009). Perceptions of the motiva-
tional climate, need satisfaction, and indices of well- and ill-
being among hip hop dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine &
Science, 13, 10–19.
Radel, R., Pelletier, L. G., Sarrazin, P., & Baxter, D. (2014).
The paradoxical effect of controlling context on intrinsic
motivation in another activity. Learning and Instruction, 29,
95–102. doi: 10.1016/j.learninstruc/.2013.09.004
Radel, R., Sarrazin, P., Legrain, P., & Wild, C. (2010). Social
contagion of motivation between teacher and student:
Analyzing underlying processes. Journal of Educational
Psychology, 102, 577–587. doi: 10.1037/a0019051
Reeve, J. (2006). Teachers as facilitators: What autonomy
supportive teachers do and why their students benefit. The
Elementary School Journal, 106, 225–236. doi: 10.1086/
Reeve, J. (2009). Why teachers adopt a controlling motivating
style toward students and how they can become more
autonomy supportive. Educational Psychologist, 44,
159–175. doi: 10.1080/00461520903028990
Reeve, J., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2004). Self-determination
theory: A dialectical framework for understanding the socio-
cultural influences on student motivation. In D. McInerney &
S. Van Etten (Eds.), Research on sociocultural influences on
motivation and learning: Big theories revisited (Vol. 4, pp. 31–
60). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Press.
Reeve, J., & Jang, H. (2006). What teachers say and do to support
students’ autonomy during a learning activity. Journal of
Educational Psychology, 98, 209–218. doi: 10.1037/0022-
Reeve, J., Jang, H., Carrell, D., Jeon, S., & Barch, J. (2004).
Enhancing students’ engagement by increasing teachers’
autonomy support. Motivation and Emotion, 28, 147–169.
doi: 10.1023/B:MOEM.0000032312.95499.6f
Reeve, J., Ryan, R. M., Deci, E. L., & Jang, H. (2007).
Understanding and promoting autonomous self-regulation:
A self-determination theory perspective. In D. Schunk &
B. Zimmerman (Eds.), Motivation and self-regulated learn-
ing: Theory, research, and application (pp. 223–244).
Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Reeve, J., Vansteenkiste, M., Assor, A., Ahmad, I., Cheon, S. H.,
Jang, H., ... Wang, C. K. J. (2014). The beliefs that underlie
autonomy-supportive and controlling teaching: A multi-
national investigation. Motivation and Emotion, 38, 93–110.
doi: 10.1007/s11031-013-9367-0
Rogat, T. K., Witham, S. A., & Chinn, C. A. (2014). Teachers’
autonomy-relevant practices within an inquiry-based science
curricular context: Extending the range of academically
significant autonomy-supportive practices. Teachers College
Record, 116, 1–46.
Roth, G., & Weinstock, M. (2013). Teachers’ epistemological
beliefs as an antecedent of autonomy-supportive teaching.
Motivation and Emotion, 37, 402–412. doi: 10.1007/s11031-
J. L. Núñez & J. León: Autonomy Support in the Classroom 281
Author’s personal copy (e-offprint)
Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4):275–283
Ryan, R. M. (1982). Control and information in the intraper-
sonal sphere: An extension of cognitive evaluation theory.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 450–461.
doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.43.3.450
Ryan, R. M. (1995). Psychological needs and the facilitation of
integrative processes. Journal of Personality, 63, 397–427.
doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1995.tb00501.x
Ryan, R. M., & Connell, J. P. (1989). Perceived locus of
causality and internalization: Examining reasons for acting
in two domains. Journal of Personality and Social Psychol-
ogy, 57, 749–761. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.57.5.749
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000a). Intrinsic and extrinsic
motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Con-
temporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54–67. doi: 10.1006/
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000b). Self-determination theory
and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social develop-
ment, and wellbeing. American Psychologist, 55, 68–78.
doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2004). Autonomy is no illusion:
Self-determination theory and the empirical study of
authenticity, awareness, and will. In J. Greenberg, S. L.
Koole, & T. Pyszczynski (Eds.), Handbook of experimental
existential psychology (pp. 449–479). New York, NY:
Ryan, R. M., La Guardia, J. G., Solky-Butzel, J., Chirkov, V. I.,
& Kim, Y. (2005). On the interpersonal regulation of
emotions: Emotional reliance across gender, relationships,
and culture. Personal Relationships, 12, 146–163.
doi: 10.1111/j.1350-4126.2005.00106.x
Ryan, R. M., Stiller, J. D., & Lynch, J. H. (1994). Representa-
tions of relationships to teachers, parents and friends as
predictors of academic motivation and self-esteem. Jour-
nal of Early Adolescence, 14, 226–249. doi: 10.1177/
Ryan, R. M., Williams, G. C., Patrick, H., & Deci, E. L. (2009).
Self-determination theory and physical activity: The dynam-
ics of motivation in development and wellness. Hellenic
Journal of Psychology, 6, 107–124.
Sheldon, K. M., & Filak, V. (2008). Manipulating autonomy,
competence and relatedness support in a game-learning
context: New evidence that all three needs matter. British
Journal of Social Psychology, 47, 267–283. doi: 10.1348/
Sierens, E., Vansteenkiste, M., Goossens, L., Soenens, B., &
Dochy, F. (2009). The synergistic relationship of perceived
autonomy support and structure in the prediction of self-
regulated learning. The British Journal of Educational
Psychology, 79, 57–68. doi: 10.1348/000709908x304398
Silk, J., Morris, A., Kanaya, T., & Steinberg, L. (2003).
Psychological control and autonomy granting: Opposite
ends of a continuum or distinct constructs? Journal of
Research on Adolescence, 13, 113–128. doi: 10.1111/1532-
Skinner, E. A., & Belmont, M. J. (1993). Motivation in the
classroom: Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and
student engagement across the school year. Journal of
Educational Psychology, 85, 571–581.
Soenens, B., Sierens, E., Vansteenkiste, M., Dochy, F., &
Goossens, L. (2012). Psychologically controlling teaching:
Examining outcomes, antecedents, and mediators. Journal of
Educational Psychology, 104, 108–120. doi: 10.1037/
Soenens, B., & Vansteenkiste, M. (2005). Antecedents and
outcomes of self-determination in three life domains: The
role of parents’ and teachers’ autonomy support. Journal of
Youth and Adolescence, 34, 589–604. doi: 10.1007/s10964-
Stefanou, C. R., Perencevich, K. C., Dicintio, M., & Turner,
J. C. (2004). Supporting autonomy in the classroom: Ways
teachers encourage student decision making and owner-
ship. Educational Psychologist, 39, 97–110. doi: 10.1207/
Su, Y., & Reeve, J. (2011). A meta-analysis of the effectiveness
of intervention programs designed to support autonomy.
Educational Psychology Review, 23, 159–188. doi: 10.1007/
Taylor, I., & Ntoumanis, N. (2007). Teacher motivational
strategies and student self-determination in physical educa-
tion. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 747–760.
Taylor, I. M., Ntoumanis, N., & Smith, B. (2009). The
social context as a determinant of teacher motivational
strategies in physical education. Psychology of Sport
and Exercise, 10, 235–243. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.
Taylor, I. M., Ntoumanis, N., & Standage, M. (2008). A self-
determination theory approach to understanding the ante-
cedents of teachers’ motivational strategies in physical
education. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 30,
Tessier, D., Sarrazin, P., & Ntoumanis, N. (2008). The effects of
an experimental programme to support students’ autonomy
on the overt behaviours of physical education teachers.
European Journal of Psychology of Education, 23, 239–253.
doi: 10.1007/BF03172998
Torsheim, T., & Wold, B. (2001). School-related stress, school
support, and somatic complaints: A general population
study. Journal of Adolescence Research, 16, 293–303.
doi: 10.1177/0743558401163003
Tsai, Y. M., Kunter, M., Lüdtke, O., Trautwein, U., & Ryan,
R. M. (2008). What makes lessons interesting? The role of
situational and individual factors in three school subjects.
Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 460–472.
doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.100.2.460
Vallerand, R. J., & Ratelle, C. F. (2002). Intrinsic and extrinsic
motivation: A hierarchical model. In E. L. Deci &
R. M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research
(pp. 37–63). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
Vansteenkiste, M., Niemiec, C. P., & Soenens, B. (2010). The
development of the five mini-theories of self-determination
theory: An historical overview, emerging trends, and future
directions. In T. C. Urdan & S. A. Karabenick (Eds.),
Advances in motivation and achievement, v. 16A – The
decade ahead: Theoretical perspectives on motivation and
achievement (pp. 105–165). London, UK: Emerald.
Vansteenkiste, M., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2008). Self-
determination theory and the explanatory role of psycho-
logical needs in human well-being. In L. Bruni, F. Comim, &
M. Pugno (Eds.), Capabilities and happiness (pp. 187–223).
Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Vansteenkiste, M., Sierens, E.,Goossens, L., Soenens,B., Dochy, F.,
Mouratidis, A., ... , & Beyers, M. (2012). Identifying
configurations of perceived teacher autonomy support and
structure: Associations with self-regulated learning, motivation
and problem behavior. Learning and Instruction, 22, 431–439.
doi: 10.1016/j.learninstruc.2012.04.002
Vansteenkiste, M., Simons, J., Lens, W., Sheldon, K. M.,
Deci, E. L. (2004). Motivating learning, performance,
and persistence: The synergistic role of intrinsic goals
and autonomy-support. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 87, 246–260. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.
Vansteenkiste, M., Zhou, M., Lens, W., & Soenens, B. (2005).
Experiences of autonomy and control among Chinese
learners: Vitalizing or immobilizing? Journal of Educational
Psychology, 97, 468–483.
282 J. L. Núñez & J. León: Autonomy Support in the Classroom
Author’s personal copy (e-offprint)
European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4):275–283 Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing
Weinstein, N., Przybylski, A. K., & Ryan, R. M. (2012). The
index of autonomous functioning: Development of a scale of
human autonomy. Journal of Research in Personality, 46,
397–413. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2012.03.007
Wentzel, K. R. (2002). Are effective teachers like good parents?
Teaching styles and student adjustment in early adolescence.
Child Development, 73, 287–301. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.
Williams, G. C., Wiener, M. W., Markakis, K. M., Reeve, J., &
Deci, E. L. (1994). Medical student motivation for internal
medicine. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 9,
327–333. doi: 10.1007/BF02599180
Received February 13, 2014
Accepted January 27, 2015
Published online October 20, 2015
About the authors
Juan L. Núñez, PhD, is a senior lecturer
and director of Motivational Studies
Group at the Department of Psychology
and Sociology, University of Las Palmas
de Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain.
His research focuses on the analysis of the
psychometric properties of assessment
instruments, and the study of the ante-
cedents and consequences of motivation in
educational settings.
Jaime León, PhD, is postdoctoral
researcher at the Department of Educa-
tion, University of Las Palmas de Gran
Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain. Currently
is dedicated to exploring the explanatory
factors of academic achievement in
Secondary education.
Juan L. Núñez
Department of Psychology and Sociology
University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Calle Santa Juana de Arco, 1
35004 Las Palmas
Tel. +34 928 458924
J. L. Núñez & J. León: Autonomy Support in the Classroom 283
Author’s personal copy (e-offprint)
Ó2015 Hogrefe Publishing European Psychologist 2015; Vol. 20(4):275–283
... As a useful heuristic, some scholars also refer to autonomous motivation as want-to motivation, whereas controlled motivation is referred to as have-to motivation (Milyavskaya et al., 2015). Although they are different, autonomous and controlled school motivation coexist and over time, extrinsic motivation can become increasingly internalized and thus, autonomous (Núñez & León, 2015). The last form of motivation, called amotivation, is defined as a lack of motivation and purpose. ...
... In turn, need supportive behaviors are associated with autonomous motivation among youth (Ricard & Pelletier, 2016;Ryan & Deci, 2020). In contrast, parental control through rules may promote controlled school motivation, which takes place when youth feel external pressure to do their schoolwork (Núñez & León, 2015). By establishing rules and limits around their adolescent's behavior (e.g., imposing curfews), parents may emphasize their expectations for prioritizing schoolwork over other activities. ...
Full-text available
School motivation is key to promoting optimal educational pathways. Some studies suggest that parental monitoring behaviors foster school motivation among adolescents; however, they did not examine the potential role of adolescents’ motivation in shaping parental monitoring behaviors. This longitudinal study aimed to examine the bidirectional associations between three types of school motivation (autonomous, controlled, and amotivation) and two types of perceived parental monitoring behaviors (solicitation and control). The sample consisted of 328 adolescents (212 girls, 116 boys; M = 15.78 years), assessed at the end of their third or fourth year of secondary school, and again, 1 year later. Path analyses revealed that over a 1-year period, bidirectional associations were found between autonomous motivation and perceived parental solicitation. Moreover, parental solicitation as perceived by the adolescents was associated with a decrease in amotivation during the following year. Findings provide support for the dynamic nature of the parent–child relationships and highlight the need to consider child-to-parent effects to promote positive school-related outcomes.
... In line with first hints in the literature (Steuer et al., 2013;Vasconcellos et al., 2020), our findings thus shed light on how peer climate and peer interactions might influence students' competence satisfaction in classroom contexts. Due to scarce research on how peer factors and students' motivational processes interact in class (Núñez and León, 2015), our findings widen researchers' view on why students' competence satisfaction arises in class. They prompt future studies to focus on peer factors and peer interactions. ...
Full-text available
This qualitative study aimed to identify and to systematize factors that contribute to students’ competence satisfaction in class from students’ perspectives. Based on self-determination theory as our primary theoretical background, we conducted episodic interviews with 25 high school students. A combined deductive-inductive qualitative content analysis approach was applied. As our key finding, we revealed different teaching factors within and beyond self-determination theory (i.e., structure, autonomy support, relatedness support, mastery goal structure, perceived error climate, teaching quality, teachers’ reference norm orientations) as well as additional factors (e.g., students’ motivation and engagement, peer climate and reciprocal peer support) that contributed to students’ competence satisfaction in class from the students’ points of view. This study contributes to existing research on why students’ competence satisfaction arises in class by complementing it with an integrative, explorative, and student-oriented perspective.
... While advocates of high levels of learner control have argued that affective and motivational benefits are often associated with exercising control (Kohn, 1993;Núñez & León, 2015;Ryan & Deci, 2020), recent meta-analyses have reported mixed results for learnercontrolled instruction on learning compared to externally controlled instruction, with effect sizes close to zero (Carolan et al., 2014;Karich et al., 2014;Landers & Reddock, 2017). Karich et al. (2014) concluded in their meta-analysis that "The current study… found near zero effects for all components of instruction (pacing, time, sequence, practice, review). ...
Full-text available
Previous research has shown mixed results of allowing learners to control their access to guidance in the form of worked examples during instruction. This study aimed to improve the instructional design knowledge base through a randomized controlled trial that tested the effects of three types of control on final test performance and subjective ratings of cognitive load. One hundred seventy-two 9th-12th grade students from an independent school took a pretest for prior knowledge and were randomly sorted into one of three instructional treatments: Instruction that allowed students to choose between studying worked examples and solving equivalent problems, an identical instruction to the first group with the difference being the provision of information for how to manage the instruction based on principles of example-based learning, and instruction with a fixed sequence of alternating worked examples and problems. Cognitive load was measured with a 9-point mental effort scale after each trial of the learning phase, and a posttest of problem-solving performance was administered 13 days later. An exploratory analysis of the control decisions of the two learner-controlled groups suggested that learners often violated established principles of example-based learning, and that providing information prompts for how to manage the instruction improved some of the selection behavior. The results of the hypothesis testing showed a significant effect of prior knowledge on performance and cognitive load, but non-significant differences in cognitive load and posttest performance between the groups. The fact that both null hypotheses of the research could not be rejected prevented conclusions about the efficacy of allowing learners to control their use of worked examples during problem solving. However, the results did provide evidence of the effectiveness of supporting learners with helpful information when they are expected to control guidance during instruction. Recommendations for future research were provided.
... Teacher autonomy support refers to a type of teaching style in which teachers use non-controlling language, provide a meaningful rationale and choice, acknowledge students' negative feelings, and nurture students' motivational resources [16][17]. Based on the self-determination theory [18], individuals are inherently proactive, and a social context that facilitates autonomy and self-motivation could forge a better sense of well-being and personal growth. ...
Full-text available
The present research compared internalizing problems of adolescents who experienced parental divorce with those of adolescents who remained in intact families. Furthermore, this research investigated the association of teacher autonomy support with adolescents’ internalizing problems for the whole sample and further ascertained whether this association was moderated by distinctive personality profiles using a person-centered approach and family structures (divorced vs. intact families). A sample of 2756 Chinese adolescents (8.5% from divorced families), aged 13–18 years, participated in the present research. They completed a set of self-reported questionnaires during school hours. Results based on ANCOVA showed that adolescents who experienced parental divorce reported higher internalizing problems than did those who remained in intact families. Moreover, latent profile analysis revealed three personality profiles: psychopathic (22.7%), normative (56.4%), and resilient (20.9%). In addition, teacher autonomy support was negatively related to adolescents’ internalizing problems in the overall sample. However, interaction analyses further exhibited that this association was insignificant for psychopathic adolescents who experienced parental divorce. The current findings indicate that although teacher autonomy support may protect adolescents from internalizing problems, psychopathic adolescents whose parents got divorced should be paid exceptional attention by mental health professionals and school counselors.
... Theorists have stated that the intrinsic motivation level of learners positively affects their self-directed learning skills (Willems & Lewalter, 2012). It has also been stated that learners with intrinsic motivation should be supported with extrinsic motivation sources to develop learner autonomy (Núñez & León, 2015). Alkan and Arslan (2019) suggested that motivation is required for autonomy and academic self-efficacy. ...
Full-text available
This study investigated the relationship between motivation and academic self-efficacy of teacher candidates during the COVID-19 pandemic period. In addition, the mediating role of self-directed learning skills was also explored. In this study that is based on a correlational design, data were collected from 992 teacher candidates studying in various undergraduate programs of 48 different faculties/colleges of education in Turkey. The data were analyzed using structural equation modeling and bootstrapping method. According to the findings, the significant relationships among the variables show that high motivation of teacher candidates is necessary for high academic self-efficacy, and their academic self-efficacy increases even more when they have self-directed learning skills. As a result, during the pandemic candidate teachers with high self-directed learning skills were able to keep their motivation and maintain their academic self-efficacy at a high level. Accordingly, such results could be useful for improving teacher training policies and program content during the pandemic
Background: Teachers' behaviours drive motivational climates that shape children's engagement and well-being in the classroom, but few studies examine how specific teachers' behaviours such as wording, body language, or voice contribute to these outcomes in isolation of one another. Aims: This pre-registered experiment sought to examine the often-forgotten role that teachers' tone of voice plays in children's education. Informed by the theoretical framework of self-determination theory (SDT; Ryan & Deci, Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness, 2017), conditions manipulated controlling (pressuring, demanding), autonomy-supportive (inviting of choice), or motivationally neutral, tones of voice to explore their effects on children's self-reported psychological needs satisfaction, well-being, intention to self-disclose to and intention to cooperate with their teacher. Sample and method: Children aged 10-16 years (n = 250) heard pre-recorded teachers' voices holding sentence content and speakers constant across conditions, but varying tones of voice. Results: We hypothesized a-priori and found that when children heard controlling sounding voices, they anticipated lower basic psychological need satisfaction, well-being, and intention to disclose to teachers, as compared to neutral-sounding voices. We also anticipated beneficial effects for autonomy-supportive versus neutral voices, but pre-registered analyses did not support these expectations. Intention to cooperate with teachers did not differ across conditions. Supporting relational motivation theory (RMT; Deci & Ryan, Human Motivation and Interpersonal Relationships, 2014), exploratory analyses showed that hearing autonomy-supportive sounding voices increased autonomy and relatedness need satisfactions (but not competence need satisfaction), and through doing so indirectly related to beneficial outcomes (well-being, intention to cooperate and self-disclose). Conclusion: In summary, tones of voice seem to play an important role in shaping teachers' impact on their students.
This study consists of a correlational and regression analysis of certain factors involved in the practice of translator training, as perceived by translator trainees. More precisely, our aim is to examine the relationships between translator trainees' strategic competence (as the dependent variable), and autonomy support, amotivation and critical thinking (as the independent variables) in the translation classroom. Building upon recent advances in educational and social psychology, we have relied on Self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2011) as an interpretative frame of reference. After revising the concept of translators' strategic competence, the main contributions in the field of translators' motivation are also reviewed and the notions of autonomy support and critical thinking are approached from the perspective of both psychology and translatology. Our findings seem to point to the fact that autonomy support and critical thinking can play a facilitating role in the development of strategic competence in undergraduate translator students, who may also benefit from both when they encounter new challenges in real professional settings. Finally, the implications for translator training are discussed.
Full-text available
The objective of this case study is to offer a new perspective on innovation in higher education pedagogy by exploring how Montessori principles can be applied in an elective upper-level undergraduate marketing analytics course. Innovation in higher education is crucial for preparing students for the ever-changing challenges they will face in the workplace and in society. Montessori education offers a unique perspective for addressing many of the shortcomings identified in current approaches to undergraduate instruction. This study involved designing a course that incorporated well-established principles of Montessori education—which has demonstrated success in fostering deep learning, engagement, intrinsic motivation, and adaptability particularly among adolescents. The methodology leverages the naturalistic approach to gathering real world evidence using an inductive design based on data from instructor field notes, weekly student response submissions, and an end-of-semester student survey. In conclusion, results of the study suggest Montessori education, particularly experiential learning elements and direct connections to industry, should continue to be explored for its potential to inspire innovation in higher education. However, successfully changing the instructional paradigm requires efforts beyond a single course. Truly shaping undergraduate education for the 21st century involves broad and integrated change across departments and even universities to empower students to take control of their own learning, to be inspired and motivated by their own intrinsic values, and to expand their thinking beyond narrow expectations of textbook learning.
Full-text available
Perhaps, one major lesson that can be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic is the danger of learners’ over-dependence on teachers. This situation requires serious scrutiny, especially in rural schools where remote learning faces serious challenges. Therefore, enhancing learners’ learning autonomy in the post-pandemic era is necessary. In response, this paper seeks to provide insights into how self-directed learning may be used to mitigate the pedagogical needs of English first additional language (FAL) learners in rural South African schools. Fifteen English FAL teachers in this study responded to the question: What could be done to promote rural English FAL learners’ self-directed learning in the post-COVID-19 era? The paper follows a qualitative research design and adopts self-determination theory as a lens. The study uses observation, online interviews and document analysis for data generation. The findings indicate that English FAL teachers view self-directed learning as a tool to monitor learner progress, promote ownership, increase learning opportunities, and enhance school-home connections. Self-directed learning mitigates English FAL learners’ pedagogical needs by fostering a sense of ownership among rural English FAL learners, designing activities that promote learner-centred learning, creating supportive learning environments, and increasing parental involvement. The study recommends that English FAL teachers may use tasks with clear instructions to allow learners to complete them independently and with less teacher dependency. In addition, parents and teachers may communicate consistently to maintain and strengthen home-school relationships that foster learners’ self-directed learning and parental involvement.
This article explores the potential for the development of student autonomy in a modern Russian comprehensive school. Despite extensive evidence of the importance of teachers’ support for school autonomy in foreign studies and the global trend towards the development of an initiative and conscious position of schoolchildren in relation to learning, for the Russian psychology of education, the question of the value and practices of such support from teachers is currently insufficiently reflected. Studies on the adaptation of schoolchildren during the transition to distance learning in the context of the pandemic also confirm the relevance of self-learning skills, self-organization and autonomous learning motivation for successful learning in conditions of uncertainty. However, there is a significant shortage of research in the field of the content and prevalence of autonomy support practices in Russian schools. Experts representing twelve Russian general education schools located in various regions of Russia and positioning themselves as developing the autonomy of adolescents or interested in its development were invited to participate in the presented search study. 12 semi-structured interviews were conducted, the thematic analysis of which made it possible to identify the main ways of interpreting the concept of autonomy in the educational process, the benefits of supporting autonomy in learning, a list of key barriers preventing its support, as well as to describe a set of psychological and pedagogical practices to support the autonomy of schoolchildren implemented by school specialists. The necessity of transformation of the educational discourse in the direction of increasing the autonomy of schoolchildren and the dissemination of relevant ideas and practices in the pedagogical community is substantiated.
Full-text available
Based on Self Determination Theory in this study we tested the relationship between perceived coach autonomy support, satisfaction of the three basic needs and three outcomes or components define coaching effectiveness in a sample of 159 elite taekwondo athletes (Mean age = 18.63 ± 4.05 years). Results revealed that perceived coach autonomy support predicted satisfaction of the basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Furthermore, the need of autonomy and the need or relatedness were associated with extra effort, effectiveness and satisfaction with their coach leadership, while the need of competence was associated with satisfaction with their coach leadership.
I: Background.- 1. An Introduction.- 2. Conceptualizations of Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination.- II: Self-Determination Theory.- 3. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Perceived Causality and Perceived Competence.- 4. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Interpersonal Communication and Intrapersonal Regulation.- 5. Toward an Organismic Integration Theory: Motivation and Development.- 6. Causality Orientations Theory: Personality Influences on Motivation.- III: Alternative Approaches.- 7. Operant and Attributional Theories.- 8. Information-Processing Theories.- IV: Applications and Implications.- 9. Education.- 10. Psychotherapy.- 11. Work.- 12. Sports.- References.- Author Index.
Self-determination Theory (SDT) is a motivational theory of personality, development, and social processes that examines how social contexts and individual differences facilitate different types of motivation, especially autonomous motivation and controlled motivation, and in turn predict learning, performance, experience, and psychological health. SDT proposes that all human beings have three basic psychological needs – the needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness – the satisfaction of which are essential nutrients for effective functioning and wellness. Satisfaction of these basic needs promotes the optimal motivational traits and states of autonomous motivation and intrinsic aspirations, which facilitate psychological health and effective engagement with the world.
Intrinsic and extrinsic types of motivation have been widely studied, and the distinction between them has shed important light on both developmental and educational practices. In this review we revisit the classic definitions of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in light of contemporary research and theory. Intrinsic motivation remains an important construct, reflecting the natural human propensity to learn and assimilate. However, extrinsic motivation is argued to vary considerably in its relative autonomy and thus can either reflect external control or true self-regulation. The relations of both classes of motives to basic human needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are discussed.